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  • Penny Hieb

Newcomer Senor Coffee Brews Up Stunning Roasts in Breathtaking Cave Creek

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

The alchemy of happenstance and serendipity brought me the the lead for my first post quarantine blog post of the COVID 19 era. I had been covering Phoenix area coffee houses at a swift pace until an invisible virus set foot in the continental United States and upended cafe life as I knew it. Soon many of my familiar haunts were "open for curbside pick up only" or sparsely staffed with masked baristas in cafes devoid of seating. No more hipsters on threadbare couches. No more aspiring novelists on their laptops. No more Death Cab For Cutie over the sound system. All was replaced by a COVID induced silence, broken only by the occasional comforting sound of a lone barista clanking a portafilter and the hissing and gurgling of the steam wand of the espresso machine. Expressions of gratitude for a cup well brewed suddenly became "be safe," rather than the old standard "thank you". Phoenix's coffee houses transformed from happily abuzz caffeine havens to clinical level purveyors of coffee beans.

With cafe life in upheaval, I decided it was time to upend my otherwise predictable life. I quit my dental hygiene position of 18 years, giving up my west facing parking spot adjacent to a scenic wash of desert flora and a steady diagonal view of Petsmart. The world was in flux anyway, so why not include the future of my employment to the mix? Ordinarily, the prospect of change would have filled me with absolute dread, but in this instance I felt oddly serene. I smelled new opportunities on a distant horizon. And in the meantime? Lets see, deliver medications to the home bound? Sure, why not? Spare others the chore of picking up their Taco Bell order? Yes, please! I was set free with my new lowly paying tasks. Return to the comfort of my 18 year parking spot and matching 401k contributions? Not on your life!!

Fast forward a few months and I suddenly discovered that I missed my dental mirror and periodontal probe. But return to my 18 year parking spot? Not on your life!! Instead, when dental offices opened back up for elective procedures, I subjected myself to a whirlwind of dental hygiene temp opportunities and a series of punitive working interviews. I made many interesting discoveries out and about in my new wide open world of dentistry. I called my favorite dentist, Candace Gershkovich, often, peppering her with technical questions: should a recently seated crown be wedging an entire serving of protein on the mesial buccal? Would you tell a patient that they were about to lose three facially prominent teeth in the same casual manner that you'd discuss the peanut butter and jelly sandwich you just ate for lunch? And, most of all, like a certain practioner of dentistry, do you also agree that hand instrumentation and prophy paste are the devil's playground?

Then on a beautiful and bright Friday morning somewhere in the vicinty of greater North Phoenix, I met the friendly and engaging Samantha Bayer, a patient who lightened my day and handed me the opportunity for my first coffee story in three long months. Turns out she was heading up her first coffee venture: barista at the upstart Cave Creek coffee truck, Senor Coffee. My inspiration to blog again was sparked when she invited me to the one time gold mining town in order to sample the valley's newest coffee drive up. I was then determined to pay her an immediate visit.

I took the scenic drive to the picturesque and charming town of Cave Creek the next Friday afternoon. As you head north on Scottsdale Road and wind your way up toward the western store fronts of Cave Creek, the dramatic splendor of the Sonoran Desert comes into sharp focus. Clusters of Prickly Pear cactus dot the side of the road, statuesque saguaros stand guard in the foothills of the Black Mountains, and precariously balanced boulders perch atop 12 million year old eroded rock formations. It is at once gorgeous and prehistoric at a glance. Senor Coffee can be found in the town's Prickly Pear Plaza at 6268 E. Cave Creek Road. The vibrant coffee truck that houses the operation sits in front of an old west style mercantile and is surrounded by a quaint cluster of of shops that sell iron works, t shirts, and unique Cave Creek inspired wares. A bright and colorful Day of the Dead style mural adorns the front of the truck and beckons you playfully with the words, "Holy Crap its Bueno!" Clearly, there must be a playful side to this purveyor of fine coffee.

It didn't take me long to discover that my inference was right. Founder Scott Cerkoney greeted me from the window of the truck and welcomed me with his Midwestern charm and lack of pretension. He may be brewing up coffee from the valley's finest craft roaster, The Roastery of Cave Creek, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. He shares with me that the name for his Mexican inspired coffee truck actually has a truly lighthearted origin. "My dad loved going to McDonald's for coffee three times a day. Three times a day! He called it his 'senior special'," Cerkoney explained. "I wanted to honor my dad with the name of the truck," he says. As a Wisconsin transplant who fell in love with Cave Creek and its friendly locals, he also wanted to give the name a more Arizona inspired spin: hence, Senor. The truck's serving counter features a playful display of grocery store aisle religious candles and Senor Coffee mugs. A rusted metal statue bearing the likeness of a mariachi musician stands to the right of the truck blaring silent tunes. Inside the truck, a beautiful commercial grade Rancilio espresso machine produces Senor's signature lattes, cappuccinos, and Americanos. A double slushy machine spins frappes and smoothies for the plaza's patrons awaiting relief from the blistering June heat. A selection of two high quality single origin roasts packaged by The Roastery of Cave Creek beckon coffee lovers with names like Bueno Roast (a darker variety), and Fantastico Roast (a lighter alternative). A unique selection of Torani Syrup flavors can be added to any drink prepared by Senor's barista, Samantha. I sampled an ice latte with a truly Arizona inspired spin: a splash of authentic prickly pear flavor. The Roastery of Cave Creek produces amazingly nuanced coffee and the added prickly pear syrup adds that hard to find locavore dimension to the experience, elevating Senor Coffee to the level of destination coffee in many respects: Fodor's Travel Guide worthy environs, world class small batch roasted beans, and truly authentic Arizona centric flavors.

Cave Creek locals will appreciate the convenience Senor Coffee offers to the grab and go crowd. Patrons can stay in their car, order their drink of choice, and have it delivered by Samantha right to their driver side window. "We're the only place in Cave Creek that does that," Cerkoney explains. Barista Samantha enjoys the fun atmosphere Senor fosters and delights in meeting new people throughout the day. She also loves being a part of a new coffee enterprise whose proprietor has encouraged her to create drink recipes and leave her mark on the business.

The morning after I visited Senor Coffee, I brewed up the Fantastico Roast I had purchased there. I was excited to finally have a bag of the coveted beans produced by the highly regarded Roastery of Cave Creek. I steeped it in my French Press and let the flavors linger on my tongue. Tangy, complex, grassy, and delicate is how I would describe the resulting cup. The brew had a thinner body and a mildly spicy aftertaste. The Roastery of Cave Creek carefully sources its organic coffee through sustainable fair trade and direct trade relationships with farms in Central and South America. The roastery has been in operation locally since 1997 and provides coffee to Phoenix establishments such as Vovomeena, Roaring Fork, and Matt's Big Breakfast. Tours of its visually impressive facility also draw many far flung coffee tourists. https://www.roc2.coffee/

If you are in Cave Creek, stop by Senor Coffee for your caffeine fix. If you are not in Cave Creek, make it a day trip and go there. Not only will you sample some amazing coffee, you will be entranced by the charm of the surrounding town. https://www.cavecreek.org/ You will also be all the better for getting to know Senor's kind and welcoming staff. For hours of operation, call 602 245 5350. https://www.facebook.com/senorcoffeeco


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